This season is shaping up to be one of the most storied across Europe, and periods of time like the last fortnight display exactly that. From Chelsea’s renaissance to Real Madrid’s systemic change to Der Klassiker, it seemed like every league had something special. Let’s look at the latest protagonists.
10. Erling Haaland (Last appearance: October 5th)
Manchester City continue to be one of the best teams in Europe, spear-headed by the final boss of world football: Erling Braut Haaland.
Haaland had a decent game against Bournemouth but was taken off halfway through, likely as a resting measure so that the Norwegian would be fit for City’s game mid-week in the Champions League, a game against Young Boys which saw Haaland bagging a brace, the first from the spot and the second a beautiful driven finish into the top corner from the edge of the box. Haaland started the game strong against Chelsea, scoring from the spot after being brought down by Marc Cucurella and then doubled his tally for the day with a slide which nudged the ball in under his thigh. It’s not Haaland’s most prolific performances, but it’s a showcase of how useful he can be outside of just the goals, although with that said he did just bag four in three games.
9. Conor Gallagher (New)
Chelsea have finally had the ‘big turnaround’ that has been due for the last few months, with the team now clicking with Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics, resulting in the team getting four points out of a pair of games with the defending champions and their primary challengers, and Conor Gallagher has proven himself to be crucial to this.
Chelsea press with two ‘strikers’, and Gallagher is usually the man who joins Nicolas Jackson in the press. Gallagher’s tireless attitude results in him taking this role while also pivoting towards the wing backs to press with the wingers when the ball goes wide, as well as operating as a midfielder when in possession. It is a role that requires him to be on the move constantly, something very few players in Europe can manage, but Gallagher is performing it beautifully. It was Gallagher’s endless tank that allowed Chelsea to run down Manchester City’s build-up patterns from and win the midfield battle against Tottenham Hotspur, and Gallagher combined this defensive prowess with offensive production too, as he picked up an assist in both games.
8. Jonathan Gradit (New)
By the time the international break ends, RC Lens will have not conceded a goal in over a month, and much of that is down to the brilliance of Jonathan Gradit.
The Frenchman was imperious in defense for Lens, completely locking down his half-space and wide area while becoming Lens’ lynchpin in build-up from the back. Gradit was fantastic game after game, shutting down defenses with all the hard-work off the ball that can’t be minimised to singular moments but are just a facet of his minute-by-minute play. Gradit has been crucial to Lens’ pressing in the middle and attacking thirds too, as he often steps out of the defense to press inside forwards who have come short to receive the ball. The fruits of his labour was a fantastic headed goal from an Angelo Fulgini corner, a goal which ended up being the sole goal of a very important game for Lens against Olympique Marseille.
7. João Neves (New)
Portugal’s latest footballing sensation is SL Benfica’s 19-year-old midfielder João Neves, and the versatile player made himself known in Benfica’s recent games.
Benfica struggled at times to get the ball out of their own half against Chaves but Neves offered himself as a wide option on the right, a common point of relief for Benfica throughout the game, and this movement changed the entire complexion of the match as Neves went on to lead Benfica’s charges into the opposition half and into more dangerous areas. This was the case against Real Sociedad too, although this time Benfica could not reap the rewards of Neves’ hard-work. Neves announced his arrival in world football by scoring a late equaliser for Benfica against Sporting Lisbon in a match that carried massive weight in the title race in Portugal this season, and Neves’ creativity and resilience would eventually inspire the rest of the Benfica team to continue their attrition until a 96th minute goal rescued the game for them. A fantastic set of performances that have transformed Benfica’s entire style of play and patterns.
6. Jude Bellingham (Last week: 2)
The player who has been in the conversation for the best in the world sees a big drop-off in the rankings this week after an extended absence from the first team.
Jude Bellingham had a solid but ultimately ineffective game against Rayo Vallecano, and then a shoulder injury saw Bellingham miss the rest of Real Madrid’s games for this period, causing a massive drop in his position in the rankings.
5. Hakan Çalhanoğlu (Last week: 7)
Another fortnight, another set of crucial performances from Hakan Çalhanoğlu as he sets the benchmark for his teammates at Internazionale in their bid to regain the Scudetto.
Çalhanoğlu was simply unbeatable against Atalanta, RB Salzburg and Frosinone, controlling the middle and setting the tempo for the team with his visionary passing, great decision-making and game intelligence. Çalhanoğlu is Inter’s primary outlet in build-up, offering himself as a safe option to the centre-backs, facilitating third-man runs from both the midfielders, as well as the wide centre-backs and the wing backs. This combined with Çalhanoğlu’s ability to turn and re-distribute the ball further forward creates an offensive and transitional threat that must be either contained by multiple players, as failure to do so allows one of the best dead ball specialists of this generation a free reign at your goal from deep. All three teams Inter faced tried to do this, and while they minimised Çalhanoğlu’s threat going forward directly, Çalhanoğlu still found spaces for others and created play around himself, showing great leadership and intelligence. The Turkish international also got two more goals for the season, both from the spot. A true general.
4. Antoine Griezmann (Last week: 6)
It’s been said before, but still not said enough. Antoine Griezmann is the definition of ‘champagne football’. A player borne of pomp and social media hype who has aged into one of the classiest acts in world football.
Atlético Madrid were shocked by Las Palmas, but throughout the game Griezmann kept his head down, did all of his work and more, even setting up Álvaro Morata for a chance which went begging for a goal. However, Griezmann would be back to producing his top numbers just a handful of days later when Atlético faced Celtic at home. Griezmann opened the scoring in just the sixth minute with a fantastic placed finish from the edge of the box which came after Griezmann received the ball from a cross and controlled it perfectly. Griezmann created the second with an insane ball from deep that found José Giménez at the back post, and then topped the game off with an insane overhead kick that nestled itself in the side-netting to make it a brace for him on the night. Griezmann was Villarreal’s bane too, constantly harassing and pressing defenders without any let-up, and then turning around and threatening them on the break. It was Griezmann’s ludicrous ball across the face of goal that created Atlético’s first goal of the game, and then Griezmann himself got on the end of a ball across goal to get one for himself. His movement both in and out of possession is unbelievable, his reading of pockets and space is indescribable and I simply cannot watch an Atlético game if it does not involve him. If only he had a striker who can finish his dinner.
3. Álejandro Grimaldo (Last week: 3)
If you haven’t watched Álejandro Grimaldo this season, you have not enjoyed football. That is the simple truth.
Leverkusen found themselves with a corner at the end of the first half against Hoffenheim, and Jonas Hofmann drilled it low towards the edge of the box, where of course Grimaldo was ready to take a shot first-time, a shot which cannoned into the top corner of the goal, simply perfection. However, Leverkusen would bottle a two-goal cushion, and with no real options going forward, Victor Boniface squared a ball to Grimaldo at the edge of the box once again. With four players bearing down on him, Grimaldo calmly took another fantastic curling shot that landed deep in the corner of the net to rescue Leverkusen and double his tally for the day. It was déjà vu against Union Berlin the next week, as Leverkusen’s first goal of the game was a brilliant looping shot from twenty yards out by Grimaldo that impossibly evaded both goalkeeper and crossbar to dip into the net. Grimaldo even bagged himself an assist with a perfect curled corner that eluded everyone in the box but Jonathan Tah at the far post who stuck it in after an admittedly sloppy first attempt. What Grimaldo has done in the last year or so — especially the last couple months — has rocked the football world and it is a crying shame that more people don’t talk about it.
2. Harry Kane (Last week: 4)
It takes a special set of performances to leapfrog Álejandro Grimaldo with the kind of form he’s been in, but Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane has just done exactly that.
Bayern Munich found themselves lucky to have faced an SV Darmstadt side with a man down, and there were still question marks on how the team could improve even with the massive win having come, and with Bayern’s next match being Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker. Kane answered every question and went for extra credit, controlling the game in the final third with his hold-up play and ability to play his attacking cohorts in off his back, and combined this with his natural striker’s instinct to be in the right places in the right times, scoring a hat-trick to mark his arrival in Der Klassiker. Kane was not done yet, as Bayern had yet another tough test remaining in the form of Galatasaray just four days after Dortmund. Kane showed up once again, bagging a brace to eek out the game for the Bavarians as at times it seemed like Galatasaray would come away with a point or even more. Kane followed this up with a quick first-half brace against FC Heidenheim, both goals being fantastically taken finishes from pretty far out. In case you lost count, Kane scored seven goals in three games, two of those games being against Champions League teams. Unreal.
1. Leroy Sané (Reign: 56 days)
If you’ve been keeping up with professional wrestling in the last couple of years, you will know that a lengthy title reign, while healthy, can become repetitive if extended beyond a reasonable length. That’s what the feeling is with Leroy Sané’s now two-month-long stranglehold over the position of Europe’s finest footballer.
This is not to say that Sané’s reign has been boring or drawn out, but rather that as a writer is difficult to rephrase the same things over and over every other week because the player is just consistently playing the same way and at the same extremely high level over and over. Sané assisted Bayern’s opener in Der Klassiker with a perfect corner to Dayot Upamecano, and then doubled his assist tally with a perfectly curved run before squaring the ball to Harry Kane. Sané may not have gotten a goal or assist against Galatasaray but he was key to every attack with his positioning and movement, but Sané was not going to be stopped for long as he bagged himself a pair of assists against Heidenheim, assisting both of Kane’s goals in the first half, a fantastic run and pass into the middle from the right creating the first one and the second being a well-placed corner. No player does everything he does, let alone doing it so well. Simply the best in the world.
What do you think of the rankings this time around? Is there anyone you would’ve included? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion below.